After nearly four decades of service to her country, Debbie Barr is ready to relax.
With nearly three decades of that time being with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Barr retired on Aug. 31. Barr was the program manager for the Office of Legacy Management’s Uranium Leasing Program (ULP), Applied Science and Technology (AS&T) Program, and National Lab Network (NLN). She is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, serving as a cryptologic linguist from 1983 to 1987, specializing in Korean.
She began work with DOE in the mid-1990s, working first at the Yucca Mountain Site Characterization Office (YMSCO). From December 1995 to September 2010, she worked first with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in underground mapping at the Yucca Mountain site, then with DOE’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM).
Her major responsibilities included assisting DOE in planning, developing, implementing, and managing the work scope of an extensive operating budget and monitoring contractors’ performance against this budget.
In addition, she served as the technical specialist and expert in geological testing and oversight of all aspects of the geologic testing program, thermal testing program, Performance Confirmation program, and related modeling programs. She directed, oversaw, and executed presentations and briefings on the geology program to agencies and organizations outside the project, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB), Advisory Committee on Nuclear Waste (ACNW), State of Nevada, local governments, the general public, and other technical organizations.
She came to LM in 2010, initially working with the beneficial reuse program, then as a site manager. Since 2018, her role as program manager has included activities to enhance LM’s application of applied science and technology advances with the goal to improve management of disposal sites, remediation strategies, and to improve cleanup effectiveness. The job requires expertise in geology, geochemistry, and program management.
Barr said her strongest impression of her coworkers is the “tremendous generosity of spirit they’ve shown” in every project.
“Every time when I’ve reached out for help, they’ve been supportive and unwavering in their help to accomplish whatever needed to be accomplished,” she said. “It’s been so pervasive throughout my experience with LM, it would be hard to single out any specific stories. I couldn’t have worked with a better group of people!”
Of all the roles she played in her time with LM, Barr said the best part of her career has been her work with AS&T and NLN over the past five years.
“The programs allowed me to be creative, think outside the box, and develop an approach from scratch without a lot of the constraints of already stable and entrenched programs,” she said. “There’s been no such thing as saying, ‘We can’t do it,’ because it isn’t acceptable due to precedent.
“The amount of collaborative work those two programs involve with other LM individuals hopefully allowed others in LM to experience the same creativity. I hope everyone I worked with in LM had the same fun I did in working in these areas.”
The Uranium Leasing Program, which she supervised, involves management of DOE lands withdrawn from the public domain, then leased to private industry for mineral exploration and for development and mining of uranium and vanadium ore on 25,000 acres of land within the Uravan Mineral Belt in southwestern Colorado.
Jay Glascock, LM’s director of the Office of Site Operations, said Barr’s energetic management style took ULP to new heights.
“She put the program into high gear after the lifting of an eight-year court injunction, securing new leases, reestablishing partnerships, and formalizing procedures. She sustained access to the mineral resources vital to national and energy security,” Glascock said. “If not for her foresight and determination, the NLN’s support of LM’s mission would not exist. She brought science and technology to the forefront of operations.”
Barr’s colleague, Paul Kerl, said LM’s highest risk sites will benefit for years to come from the NLN collaboration she spearheaded to find ways to reduce multiple risks at the sites.
“She’s the epitome of a professional; always engaging, inspiring and cross teaming,” said Kerl, supervisor of the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act/Nevada Offsites programs. “She added so much energy and value in so many different programs over her tenure at LM. The compilation of her life’s work here at Legacy Management leaves a lasting legacy in itself.”
Over the course of her long career, Barr has seen some odd sights in the field.
“At Calamity Camp (Colorado) it was so strange to be walking across loose core samples from the uranium exploration days where the wooden core storage had decayed and dumped loose core samples all over the place,” she said. “Core is so expensive to obtain since you need to put in boreholes to get it, which is an expensive proposition. It seemed just wrong to be walking on the old core samples.”
Soon, with more free time to spend, she looks forward to volunteering at places like performing arts centers, taking classes on subjects she finds interesting but that weren’t directly related to her job, and traveling more.
“You can’t take the geologist out of the individual, even when they retire,” she said. “I’m looking forward to continuing to impose on many of my friends and relatives at future opportunities with the geologic history of surrounding features and the latest growth in the related physical science fields. Hopefully that won’t drive people away …”